SmugMug Films: Surf photography in the Arctic
Surfing tends to conjure up images of sun-soaked beaches and clear blue water. Surf photographer Chris Burkard looks for his subjects far north of the California beaches you'd normally expect. Cold water surfing pits surfers against the elements, with no more than a few millimeters of wetsuit between them and frigid water. Likewise, Burkard braves the sub-zero temperatures to capture them. SmugMug Films profiles Burkard in its latest episode.
He also answered a few questions for us - read on to find out more about his work and visit his website to see more of his photography.
DPR: When did you start shooting Arctic surfing? What draws you to it?
CB: "The first cold water surf trip I took was to Canada but I had been shooting in fairly cold water near my home in Central California growing up. Temperatures can get pretty chilly during the winter in Central and Northern California. The first time I shot in the Arctic was in 2008 when I flew to Iceland for Men's Journal. I traveled there as part of a story on Timmy Turner. He had contracted a staph infection from surfing warm water so we set our sights on a cold water adventure. What I love about the Arctic is the challenge that comes in the form of weather, logistics, and navigating your way across a foreign land. I find that amidst the harsh conditions there are glimpses of beauty and finding them makes it all worthwhile."
What do you shoot with?
"I've used every camera system out there but I've found Sony to fit my personal style best. I place a huge emphasis on being fast and light and never want the bulk of my gear to get in the way of truly experiencing a culture or subject. I use the Sony A7 and A6000 with various lenses such as the 24-70mm and 50mm 1:8. I've been stoked with the results of these cameras in producing great quality images for my editorial and commercial shoots. I'm always trying to think as a minimalist in terms of gear without sacrificing quality."
What do you do to protect yourself and your gear from harsh, cold conditions?
"With the majority of the places that I travel I am at the mercy of brutal weather. In order to best protect myself from the harsh and cold conditions I research where I'm going and what I need to be most productive in that environment. In order to best protect myself I equip myself with gear that can handle any element. A good rain shell is key for myself and can double as a camera cover. Gloves that are dexterous are crucial for navigating camera buttons. I'm a gear junkie so I am drawn to all sorts of other equipment such as Goal Zero solar chargers that keep me powered while off the grid. I highly recommend dry bags, silica packets to keep cameras defogged, and solid pelican case or two."
What impression do you hope people take away from your photos?
"Photos for me are simply a visual story. I aim to transport my viewers to that place and time where the photo was taken. I want to capture moments that people can admire and possibly even sense a bit of what I might have felt or seen in those moments. My hope is to capture these places that people might not otherwise see and be able to share the visuals and stories from my journeys. I feel most accomplished when I can inspire someone through a photograph."
Which fellow photographers’ work do you most admire?
"I practiced under landscape photographer Michael Fatali and I found my early surf photography inspiration to come from Ron Stoner. I've recently been impressed by the work of Stian Klo who shoots a lot of Iceland landscapes. I find inspiration in many different forms. Instagram has opened my eyes to tons of photographers some that are emerging and others that are well known action sports photographers such as Jimmy Chin."
What’s the best piece of advice you got when you were learning photography?
"Jeff Johnson once told me to not get good at something I don't want to do. It sounds fairly simple and obvious but I find it applies to my career path as a photographer. This advice has led me to focus my efforts and truly commit to being a photographer. Once I found photography as an art form I decided to chase that dream and focus on what I am truly passionate about. What that means for me is creating timeless photos that document the remote, beautiful, and wild places in our world."